As of 10 p.m. this evening it’s still unclear what has happened to the post of Minister for Disabled People or the responsibilities attached to it, or its shadow position in the Labour Party following Esther McVey’s promotion and Anne McGuire’s resignation. The role is ordinarily assigned to an Under Secretary of State in the Department for Work and Pensions. The absence of an Under Secretary of State in the Department for Work and Pensions makes that look unlikely. Hence the post has either been elevated to Minister of State, its responsibilities rolled into another wider portfolio or it has been cast to the scrapheap of history. My bet is on it having been rolled into a wider portfolio – marking a departure from a 40 year history of disability Ministers dating back to Alf Morris in the 1970’s. Whatever the answer the issues haven’t gone away, so whoever is in charge – and whoever their Shadow is in Labour – this is what I think should be at the top of their list of priorities:
1. Employment opportunity – and I mean opportunity, not ‘obligation’ with more vacuous and nasty sanctions and conditionality. The Work Programme is worse than useless. Work Choice is marginally less useless. Investment in Access to Work is pitiful in the scheme of things and throttled by red-tape. Despite all the evidence showing how pivotal skills and qualifications are to disabled people’s employment prospects they’re still not central to policy. The anti-regulatory zeal of Number 10 has meant that the Equality Act is likely to be having far less impact than it might have, and noone seems to be thinking of other ways to change employer behaviours. The Employment and Disability Strategy is expected imminently – can it rise to the challenge? Here are some ideas I came up with working with Disability Rights UK
2. Independent living – the right to control pilots came to an end, the Independent Living Strategy appears to have fulfilled its potential insofar as Ministers are concerned, yet almost 25% fewer people receive social services today than when it was launched, 100,000’s are set to lose DLA, 1000’s will lose the support of the Independent Living Fund and the ‘spare room subsidy removal’ (sorry Jenny M) looks set to dislodge people from the support networks that prevent their reliance on statutory services. It is an afront to disabled people’s rights. How does the government plan to mitigate all this and to ensure that progress continues to be made? How will it release resources from costly red-tape, give people genuine control over those resources, network people together to create new supports and more inclusive local communities and remake the case for the right to independent living as a social and economic investment? Here are some ideas about promoting independent living in the future
3. A new anti-poverty strategy – there is no point talking choice and control when people don’t have the money to pay the rent, bills or know where their next meal is going to come from. Poverty undermines choice and control because it deprives people of the resources to exercise agency. It robs people of the chance to realise their potential. Employment is a major part of the solution, but ‘making work pay’ is not the same as starving people off benefits. A fair system has to recognise and compensate for the income penalty faced by disabled people in a hostile labour market, the extra costs of living penalty faced by disabled people in a society still beset with barriers to daily living, and the material deprivation endured by long term unemployment, whether down to labour market disadvantage, sickness and ill-health or a combination. It needs to look beyond only financial transfers through the benefits and tax system towards tackling the systemic factors underpinning the relationship between disability and poverty, finding ways to bring down costs such as those associated with care and support, equipment or fuel.
I think those are probably enough to be getting on with for now.
Best of luck (whoever you are)!!